Dan Pink’s book – Drive – provides a clear understanding of what really motivates us. I previously touched on extrinsic and intrinsic motivators and we know that carrot and stick techniques fail to motivate people in the creative problem solving economy we’re living in. Rather, they work for jobs that simply need to get done and don’t require heavy lifting in the brain department.

He talks about two key behaviors: type 1, motivated by intrinsic means and type  x, motivated by extrinsic means. While there are times all of us exhibit type x behaviors, type 1 is where we tend to spend much of our time – and explains why most carrot and stick motivators fail in business.

There are three keys to motivation:

Autonomy over our work and life. Dan argues that management as a discipline is getting long in the tooth and that research is starting to show how Results Only Work Environments are enhancing productivity – and motivation. No longer is it about doing the time but about achieving results and having some control over how and when that happens. It’s certainly not a free for all – it’s about accountability and respect.  We like to have the freedom to solve problems effectively and think about new ways to improve. We’re wired this way, yet business has done its best to squash that notion.

Mastery. It’s something that requires effort, causes pain and that we can never, ever fully achieve. And when we’re invested in developing our skills in a certain area, we’re engaged and work becomes less like work and more like play. Pink encourages us to look at kids for how this is done because most of us quit the pursuit of mastery. But it’s in the pursuit of mastery when we’re most alive.

Purpose. We achieve more when we know we’re doing something that could change the world or at least make a difference. We need to know that the work we do matters. If it doesn’t, we’re demotivated. At the end of our careers and our short time here, we want to know that our lives mattered. Pure and simple. No one wants to be bar code.

But now that you know the keys to motivation, how do you explain why some people succeed and others fail? What separates an entrepreneur from the average office worker?

This is where I believe motivation becomes deeply personal. And also something I’ve mentioned before. Some people have the inner strength to move rocks forward no matter what and others give up. Either because they’ve been beaten down and no longer see or think about possibility. Or they’re simply lazy and want it all handed to them. Our cushy American lives could explain why India and China are eating our lunch. It could explain why their kids read more and at a higher level than ours. And why they’re turning out more quality scientists and engineers than we are. (Aside from the fact that we’re not investing in education at the same level as they are). It’s about setting priorities.

I know people from privileged backgrounds who are just as unmotivated as those from poor backgrounds. And on the flip side, there are many self-made people who fought the odds and won. Using their inner strength and refusing to accept the status quo.

We can draw conclusions on why some people succeed and others do not. And we can show anyone who listens what the keys to success may be. It comes down to their desire to do the hard work necessary to succeed. To not give up when you don’t see immediate results. It’s about the mental models we use to construct our own realities. And the willingness to change them when they’re broken. And that is a very personal matter indeed.


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